Windows Password Recovery Programs FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions About Windows Password Recovery Apps

Two of the more popular articles on this site—our free Windows password tools list and commercial Windows password tools list—are the subject of many an email in our inbox every day.

Forgetting the password to your Windows account is a common issue and "hacking" into your own PC isn't something many people often do, so it's no wonder we get so many questions.

We put together this FAQ to help answer some of the more common ones we receive about Windows password tools.

Red question mark among black question marks

"Are the commercial Windows password recovery tools better than the free ones?"

No, not necessarily.

In fact, we absolutely do not recommend that you purchase any commercial Windows password recovery tool unless you've tried and been unsuccessful with the two highest rated free programs: Ophcrack and Offline NT Password & Registry Editor.

"Are these Windows password recovery programs the only way to get back into Windows if I forgot my password?"

No, there are other methods, but using one of these programs can be an easy and fast way of getting you back in.

Take a look at Ways to Find Lost Windows Passwords for some more ideas.

"Will the [abc] Windows password recovery tool recover any password?"

It depends.

A true Windows password recovery tool, like the free and very popular Ophcrack password recovery program, is only successful up to a point. Very complicated and very long Windows passwords are nearly impossible to "crack" and would take a modern computer a very long time to discover.

Some Windows password recovery tools don't actually recover passwords, they remove them, allowing unrestricted access to the computer until a new password is created. These types of programs, like the free Offline NT Password & Registry Editor, don't care how complicated or how long a Windows password is since there's no discovery process involved. They're more accurately called password reset programs.

"I've forgotten my password at work and I'd rather not get help from the IT department! Will one of these programs help?"

Probably not, no. In most companies, especially larger ones but increasingly in small businesses as well, user accounts, and thus their passwords, are managed by a central computer called a domain controller.

In other words, your password isn't even stored on your computer, so recovering or resetting it isn't an option.

"These Windows password recovery tools are just hacker programs. You shouldn't be condoning hacking."

I disagree, and we are not.

Each of the Windows password recovery tools we've highlighted or reviewed serve the very practical and ethical purpose of getting a forgetful person out of a serious problem.

With nearly all technology, from a sharpened stone to nuclear power, there are ethical uses and there are unethical uses. The responsibility lies with the user (that's you). That said, we, of course, do not condone using any of these programs to gain access to a computer that you don't own.

"How can I prevent someone from using one of these programs to gain access to my computer?"

The most important thing you can do is to prevent physical access to your PC from those who might want to inappropriately gain access to its contents.

In other words, keep those you don't trust away from your computer. Since none of these programs can be used remotely, a perpetrator must have physical access to your computer.

Keep in mind, too, that if someone wanted to covertly access your computer, they would have to use a true password discovery program, not a password removing program. Since true password discovery programs have a difficult time recovering long and complicated passwords, make sure yours is just that.

Specifically, to avoid your password being discovered by Ophcrack, make sure your password contains at least one special character or is longer than 14 characters.

"I burned a CD/DVD or USB Drive with the [abc] Windows password recovery program on it but nothing happens when I restart! Help me please!"

Many Windows password recovery programs are designed to be run from bootable discs or flash drives, allowing you to recover or delete a Windows password without needing access to obvious advantage. However, many of you don't have experience burning ISO files or booting from sources other than your hard drive.

If you restart your computer with the disc you made in your CD/DVD drive, or the flash drive you made in a USB port, but nothing happens or Windows starts up like it usually does, you likely made one of these mistakes somewhere between downloading and booting from the disc or USB drive.

Here are some thoughts on how you might be able to solve the problem:

  • Download the ISO or other disc image format again.
  • Try burning the ISO image to a CD/DVD or flash drive again. Burning an image file is nothing like burning or copying a normal file. See How to Burn an ISO Image to a CD or DVD or How to Burn an ISO File to a USB Drive if you need some help.
  • If you're using a CD or DVD, try a different blank disc. Maybe the one you burned to was incompatible with your optical drive or was scratched.
  • Try a different USB port or USB storage device if you're using one of those.
  • Double-check that the boot order in the BIOS correctly lists the optical drive or USB (external) drive before the hard drive. See our How to Change the Boot Order in BIOS tutorial if you need help doing this.
  • Make sure the disc you burned is in the drive, or the flash drive you created is plugged in to a spare port, before restarting your computer.
  • If you're using a disc and have two CD/DVD drives, try booting with the disc in the other one.
  • If you're using a USB drive, try booting with the drive in another USB port.

If that advice gets you nowhere, just move on to another program. There are a few really good free Windows password recovery tools and many premium programs as well.

"Help! Your [abc] program starts but then it [gives an error / shows something you didn't talk about / does nothing]!"

For some reason, to some people, we've given the false impression that some of the programs we've reviewed were created by us.

If you need technical support with any Windows password recovery tool you've learned about on this website, you'll need to contact the developer or company for help. That contact information should be available on the same website where you downloaded the program.

On the other hand, if you think the program is probably working fine but you're just having problems with the complexity of the process, please know that we have complete tutorials with screenshots for the two most popular Windows password recovery programs that step you through every single detail of the process:

The above tutorials are in addition to the reviews with quick how-tos you may have already seen.